In The Service Of Princes


Strelsau in November 1780 was a gloomy place, not so much from the weather, but from the mood that the death of King Rudolf III had imposed on the city. Some kings are undeniably great, as was the king’s father, Henry the Lion. He had been a warrior, pure and simple, a man of transcendent courage who set no limits on his ambition. A huge monument at the gates of his Hofburg had set his reputation in stone. James remarked to his brother Prince Henry that such ideas of greatness were unfairly limited.

‘Vater was a great king, Heinz,’ he said. ‘He was a man of peace and used his great gifts of diplomacy and his vision and intelligence in support of the prosperity and tranquility not just of Ruritania, but of the whole of Europe. The problem is that it will never be recognised quite how much he did. All that people remember of him is his sharp and sometimes cutting wit.’

Henry laughed. ‘Some would say that’s not such a bad memorial to leave behind you. I’m glad you could be here for the family, Jimmy. We all appreciate it, even though your relationship with him can’t be spoken of openly. How long can you stay?’

‘The Munich embassy can spare me for a week or two. Soon enough it’ll have to say farewell to me for good. I’m proposing to resign my post in the new year.’

‘So, does King George have any plans for you?’

‘There’s no other post that would appeal, Heinz, as I have informed the ministry. So I shall settle back into Norfolk society and satisfy Cubbitt’s need to spend my money on ever more grandiose projects of improvement. I think there’re several canal navigations he wants me to invest in.’

‘Ah well, it had to happen I suppose. Still, it’s a pity. I’d have liked to have had you around as I pick up my new role as heir apparent to the Crown of Tassilo. That and to help temper the rule of our bullish elder brother, King Ferdinand. He’s just itching for a European war in which to play soldiers on a grand scale. I quote: “Well what’s the damned point of having such a magnificent army if you don’t use it from time to time”. And of course my marriage is set for next year at the end of the period of court mourning.’

‘Christina, I and little Lord Lowestoft will be back in Strelsau for that, never fear Heinz, though her pregnancy may get in her way. How is Aunt Osra keeping?’

‘Devastated by Vater’s death, of course. She’s more or less retired to Medeln Abbey. There’s also rumours that Prince Staszek has developed consumption. Tragic for her it it’s true. He was the centrepiece of her ambitions to promote Rothenian culture and Rothenian unity. Such an extraordinary boy. Freddie Winslow was showing me the poetry he composes. It’s in English and French and it is quite astonishing in its maturity and modernity. You must take a look at it some time. He intends to publish it, anonymously of course. Young Charles Winslow is his hero. Now who could have predicted that boy would have become so famous? One of the reviews his proud brother showed me was describing him as the greatest English poet since Spenser.’

‘Not a bad comparison,’ James said. ‘Long and tortured epics about oddly emotional knights unable to confess their love for their ladies, sublimating their pain with dramatic quests across craggy landscapes and through dark forests haunted by ravens. Christina loves them and has little patience when I scoff. She wants me to arrange it that Winslow the younger is made a bishop; she’s very keen to marry him off to one of the local belles she approves of.’

Prince Henry snorted. ‘A lost cause there on both counts. You have no such influence and I hear that the boy’s affections run in quite the opposite direction. Just like his big brother and Colonel Wollherz.’

‘Really? I had no idea.’

‘That doesn’t say much for your perceptiveness as a diplomat, Jimmy. Freddie and Sebastian live like a married couple and hide it less and less. They’re nonetheless quite the fashion in Strelsener society, though the reign of King Ferdinand may make their sort of association more perilous. Ferdy is as hardline in his religious as in his military views. Strelsau may soon get more like Munich I fear, something I’m determined to frustrate as far as I can.


Staszek was fidgetting sufficiently one morning that his grandmother felt she had to remark on it. ‘What has got you so agitated this morning, Willem dear?’

‘Orestes will be here with the morning carrier from Tarlenheim, won’t he?’

‘Heavens, Staszek! Why so excited about the arrival of a page for your new household? The hospital recommends him highly enough, and it is good of you to take on one of their blind children. They say he is highly intelligent. He’s a remarkable treble soloist in their choir, and his blindness will not prevent his carrying out some of the duties expected of a page. He can dress you, providing we lay out the clothes beforehand. He can carry messages within the palace and accompany you when needed. Go down to the abbey gate and wait outside if that’ll settle you, darling. Off you go.’

Staszek hared off down from the abbess’s lodging and clattered through the cloister, rather more loudly than suited some of the nuns, though they were willing enough to indulge the boy, who was much loved in Medeln abbey. He knew that the carrier cart arrived from the town of Tarlenheim around eleven, and that Orestes Ortolan had spent last night at an inn in the town. He checked his watch, paced up and down outside the abbey gate for ten minutes and then heard the rumble of the cart coming down the road. Orestes was sitting up with the carrier. As soon as it drew up, Staszek climbed up, hugged Orestes tightly, kissed his cheek and helped him down into the road, taking his friend’s bag.

They walked hand in hand after the cart back through the opened gate, Orestes giving Staszek a full account of his journey from Strelsau.

‘Let’s go and visit the Lady Fenice before I show you your room.’ Staszek suggested. So they walked down the length of the abbey church and into the choir aisles. And there Staszek placed Orestes right next to the towering shrine of the saint. The boy reach out and placed his palm against the plated silver and he stood there, head down, for a while.

‘D’you feel anything?’ the prince inquired.

‘Hmm? No. Though the metal’s warmer than I thought it would be. Still, I do sense something of her presence.’

‘Not surprising,’ Staszek observed. ‘Her grave’s down underneath the shrine. Oh well, let’s go across to my granny’s house, and get you settled in. I have a new livery for you in the Glottenburg colours of dark green and red. It’s very smart. Take my word for it. Oh! We’re to sleep together in my bed. Won’t that be great?’

So that night, the two naked boys snuggled into Staszek’s bed, and just as Staszek had hoped, the bigger boy took him in his arms and his belly pressed against the prince’s little butt. It was not just the comforting contact of warm skin on skin. Orestes’ tranquil but unreadable mind had just as wonderful an effect. Warm and serene, the pair sank into a more comfortable sleep than either had ever before experienced. It was not dreamless, far from it. The pair soon found that they shared a dreamworld, where Orestes could see. They walked the streets of a dream Strelsau arm in arm and in their minds they played together on the lawns of Eden. But they woke fresh and ready for the day’s work and study, happier than any boys ever had been. As the years passed, they realised they were in love and as their bodies changed they naturally became lovers, and very passionate ones.

Orestes and Staszek worked to maintain the illusion that the prince was chronically ill. Staszek occasionally threw fits of harsh coughing in public, and Orestes kept a stock of handkerchiefs spattered with blood he got from the kitchens, which Staszek would apply to his face. The prince was able to use his powers so that when people saw him he often seemed to be pale and weak.

‘I don’t like this deceit,’ he confessed to his lover. ‘It hurts people who love me, not least my granny. She spends a lot of time worrying about me, while here we are making love as energetically as any two boys ever have.’

‘But Willem, we know one day you must die and this trick will prepare people to accept it, so it’s not entirely bad,’ Orestes replied. ‘Also, like it or not, it makes you more attractive: the tragic, pale and interesting boy prince.’

His peculiar fame was occasionally brought home to the prince the last time his grandmother moved her household from Medeln abbey to the Casimirhof of Glottenburg. His public appearances grew large crowds, many of them girls and young women waving their hankerchiefs frantically at him.

Staszek was fourteen and Orestes sixteen when the Dead reached out to them once more. They had been in bed in the throes of passion, Staszek squirming and trying to muffle squeals of ecstasy as his slim body was mounted vigorously by his older, stronger and more muscular lover, who eventually climaxed and slumped on him.

It was at that point the prince had a sense they were not alone in his bedchamber. He squirmed out from under an exhausted Orestes and swung his legs over the edge of the bed to find a chair opposite occupied by a smiling man, who seemed not in the least embarrassed or surprised at what had just been going on in the room. The man’s shining eyes were enough to tell Staszek that the man was one of the Dead.

‘I’ve come for you both, your serene highness,’ he said, and then laughed merrily. ‘No need to get dressed.’

‘What! You’re going to kill both of us …!’ Staszek exclaimed. But before he finished the words all three were on the grass of Eden.

Orestes pushed himself up, his long and thick penis revealed as still very erect, pressing tight against his belly almost as high as his navel. He didn’t cover himself. He blinked in the celestial light of that place as his reactivated eyes came to terms once more with the brilliance and colour of Faërie. ‘Do you know this man, Willem?’ he asked.

‘I think it’s Karl Wollherz. Am I right sir?’

‘Correct, your serene highness. And don’t fear, you and Orestes will be returning to the world of the living after we’ve completed our business here.’ He laughed. ‘It’s nice to know I can still do this trick. It was a gift the Dead gave me when I was alive. We were not sure that it could still be done in my altered state. But here we are.’

‘What’s this about then?’ Staszek grumbled, not at all amused by the turn of events. But he reflected that you can’t expect the Dead to respect the sensibilities of the living.

Orestes reached out for his slighter body and pulled him into his warm lap for reassurance, and then from a sudden surge of desire for the extraordinarily beautiful youth he adored whom he was seeing with his eyes only for the second time. He caressed Staszek’s lower belly and fit his cock into the boy’s butt channel. ‘You are so beautiful, Willem,’ he whispered in Staszek’s ear. Then he sniggered, ‘Want me to go up inside you?’

‘Focus, Orry,’ Staszek hissed. So the conference was held as Willem settled into Orestes’ lap and amused himself keeping his lover hard by massaging the thick bar of flesh by clenching on it with his tight little butt cheeks. Of course, he concluded, it was hardly public sex, given their audience was a dead man.

Karl Wollherz for his part showed little apparent consciousness of what the two naked boys were doing in front of his eyes, but instead got to business.

‘I know that you two share everything, so Orestes will know that Willem is destined to die young. This is what the seers amongst the Dead have said. But Willem was told by the Lady Fenice that he may interpret this prophecy in ways other than the literal meaning. Have you been considering this, boys?’

Staszek replied ‘Uh … yes. I’m stubbornly healthy, so we’ve laid a false trail and I cast a spell by which people may see me as a consumptive. My supposed ill health is now generally known in my land.’

‘Why a false trail, Willem?’ the revenant asked. ‘That implies you have something else in your mind by which to disappear from your world.’

‘Hmm … We thought of just running away to the Americas and disappearing, but that wouldn’t work. I’m a prince, and there will be all the usual funeral pomp and fuss, and for that they’ll need a body. But then I remembered what Jonas Niemand did with Mr Potts to save him from the wicked baroness.’

The revenant frowned. ‘Ah … yes,’ he nodded. ‘He made a facsimile of a human body in Mr Potts’s shape, though it was just sculpted meat, is that right?’

‘Yes, said Staszek. ‘And if Jonas could do it I think I can too.’

‘And leaving that substitute corpse behind, you’d run off across the ocean. Is that your plan?’

‘Well, partly. I’ve tried creating such a substitute for myself, and though it’s a messy business I’m getting better at it, I’ve even worked out how to create a skeleton. But that’s only part of the plan. The tricky part is what happens after I’ve died an apparent death and the burial of the fake body. We decided we want to stay in the Rothenian lands, not cross to the American republic. Orry and I want to live a life openly as a couple in our homeland, just like Mr Winslow and his colonel do in Strelsau, and have a happy life together. But that won’t be easy. It’s not just people will hate us for it. There’s the fact that I’m unmistakably Staszek and I may well be recognised if I try to live a new and open life. Also I may not like what happens in my homeland of Glottenburg after I apparently die, because I’ll be around to see it and I may be weak enough to try to stop it.’

Karl Wollherz frowned deeper. ‘So what are you proposing, young man?’

‘Now that’s where I’ll need the help of your Council, sir. We propose travelling into the unknown future. And this is my idea of how to do it.’


Prince Henry of Ruritania liked to visit Glottenburg for several reasons, not the least of which was his pride in the Rothenian University he had created in its capital city. But there were other reasons. The duchy had by now recovered from the incompetent and tyrannical rule of John Casimir II and was both stable and prosperous, but clouds were gathering over its future. The health concerns over the young duke, his cousin, were becoming more pressing. The boy’s Ruritanid dynasty had no heir other than his Elphberg relatives. Should Staszek die without a child, King Ferdinand would become the next duke.

Although Prince Henry would very much welcome an Elphberg succession to Glottenburg as a step towards the reunion of the Rothenian people, he had his concerns. The first was his brother the king. Ferdinand had become just the ruler he had long feared he would be: uninterested in government other than dressing up in a large variety of uniforms and the size of the state military budget. He was by no means a bad man, but he was inept and insensitive in his dealings with just the people who needed careful handling. He could not see Ferdinand managing an easy union between the kingdom and the duchy.

Naturally as a result Henry was taking more and more of a central place in the rule of the kingdom. His brother’s ministers tended to approach him first, before they engaged with the king. Then there was the fact that Henry was the heir apparent to the kingdom, was now married and had fathered both a daughter and a son to guarantee the next generation of the Elphberg family. Not only that, but little Prince Rudolf was a red Elphberg, like his father, which has much pleased the people.

Freddie Winslow travelled with Prince Henry in his coach on that particular trip and listened patiently as his employer once more rehearsed his fears for the future. ‘Well, your royal highness,’ he eventually said with a grin, ‘I see no other choice but that you raise a conspiracy and plot to seize the throne.’

Gott Verdammt, Freddie! Don’t suggest such things, even in jest, in private and in English. You may well laugh but even the mildest of kings can be paranoid, and Ferdy has enough self-awareness to know that things are not going well in the kingdom under his rule, and his people do not believe he is the king our father was. He gets upset when attacks are made on him in print and mocking cartoons are published. I had to talk him out of imposing censorship on our presses only last week. I could almost wish that a small war might break out in the Empire to distract him.

‘Fortunately Ferdy’s old friend King Frederick has just made a very timely exit from the world, so he’s presently distracted and off to Potsdam for the funeral. But not before he caused a major fuss with the archbishop of Strelsau by insisting a mass should be said for the soul of the old Prussian atheist.’

Freddie eventually met his old pupil Staszek at the anniversary celebrations for the Rothenian University of Glottenburg. The duke was followed closely by a sturdy young groom, and from the boy’s gaunt pallor it seemed to Freddie as if the servant were there to catch and support the young duke if he faltered. But Staszek’s face lit up when he spotted Freddie in a receiving line, and for a moment he looked like quite a different boy.

Staszek’s grip when he took Freddie’s hand was dry and strong. He exclaimed ‘Mr Winslow! This is great. We need to find some time to talk. Come to the Olmusch house this afternoon at three. I’m staying there for the moment.’ Then he sniggered confidentially in a way only adolescent boys can. ‘Be prepared to be surprised.’

The boy duke departed before the anniversary service in the university chapel, conducted by the archbishop of Glottenburg. Freddie had visited the place before, though at that time it had been the chapel of the ducal residence. It remained unchanged, the walls lined with the tombs and monuments of the Ruritanid family of Glottenburg, some going back to the middle ages. Freddie mused as to where Staszek would choose to lie when his time came.

At three o’clock, as the bells of the adjacent cathedral rang the hour, Freddie climbed the stair to the town house of the Olmusch family, which had become an occasional city residence for the duke. He was admitted, and directed to one of the front reception rooms, from where a lot of noise and laughter was coming.

As he entered, Freddie was stunned momentarily by the tableau he found within. Two rough wooden tables were set up side-by-side on the carpet, which had been protected by a layer of canvas. On one table was a mass of brown clay on which an Italianate man in a smock was at work. On the other reclined Staszek, perfectly naked. He grinned over when he saw Freddie’s expression.

‘Ahah! Mr Winslow, do come in. I told you you’d be surprised. And here you find me being immortalised by Signor Acquisti from Bologna. This mass of common clay will be transformed into a facsimile of myself and then carved in marble and eventually, shrouded with a decent covering of stone drapes, it will one day be placed on my tomb. Morbid, eh? Let me introduce you to this other gentleman.’ Staszek indicated a good-looking man in his late twenties occupying a chair to one side. ‘This is Herr Goethe, the great poet, who you’ll remember began my own interest in verse and modern literature. He is visiting the university from his home at Weimar, where the duke has pre-empted me by awarding him a pension and a court appointment. Otherwise he would have been Professor of Poetry and Court Poet to the duke of Glottenburg.’

Freddie bowed to the famous author, whose works he had much enjoyed and whose fame had grown considerably over the past few years. ‘His serene highness and I,’ Goethe said, ‘have been discussing the many symbolic ways that portraiture in stone can be used. He has just now been dazzling me by an extempore composition of a somewhat sombre romance concerning a prince turned to stone. I am acting as his amanuensis since he is unable in his present nude state to make notes, not to mention the need for him to lie still to assist the good signor in his work.’

Freddie took a seat and admired the living form of Staszek, who was by far the most beautiful youth of seventeen years of age he had ever seen, his looks only rivalled by the celestial glory of Jonas Niemand. He could see some marks of disease in the somewhat hollow abdomen, but the swell of the boy’s adolescent musculature was still perfection, and his face not as sunken as Freddie had first thought when he had met the duke at the chapel that morning. His eyes were drawn to the boy’s perfect tube of a penis. It was quite long and draped over one thigh, though not tumescent. The tuft of pubic hair at its root was light enough to be almost invisible.

Realising the avid nature of his own gaze, Freddie abruptly and reluctantly shifted his attention to Staszek’s servant boy. He quickly registered that the lad was blind, so at least he could not have observed Freddie ogling his master’s naked form. He was older than the duke by a couple of years, adult in his dimensions, and by the amount of gold lace on his livery obviously a senior groom, which was very odd. Body servants needed to be fully able, but in this case an exception was being made. But Freddie had enough skill in obeservation to see that if the servant could not drink in his master’s beauty, all his attention was in following Staszek’s words. Undoubtedly the two were in some way lovers. Freddie mused that it was an arrangement with some advantages to a prince, and perhaps a blind lover had sexual skills denied to the sighted. The boy was not particularly good-looking, but his tender smile when he caught his lord’s words transformed his face into something rather special.

Staszek addressed Freddie, which brought his attention back to present company. ‘Herr Goethe, Freddie here is the elder brother of Charles Winslow, whom we have discussed.’

‘Really, sir?’ the German said, ‘The prince has taught me to admire your brother’s work. I found him – what should I call him? A poet of unfulfilled longing. Yes that will do.’

‘You read English, sir?’

‘Of course, Mr Winslow. I like to think there is a Weltliteratur to which I am a proud contributor and which spans all human borders and languages. Who can know the English soul who has not read Shakespeare and the other great poets of your nation? I include your brother among those, by the way. I wish to induce him to lecture in Weimar, and that may be all the more possible as I understand he’s not infrequently with you in Strelsau.’

Freddie acknowledged the compliment to Charlie, and added. ‘My good friend the Baron Wollherz von Stock would certainly agree with you about Shakespeare. He knows most of his works off by heart.’

‘Shakespeare is a “World-soul” as we say in German,’ Goethe said, with conviction. Freddie stayed watching the performances of poet and sculptor the whole afternoon, listening with great interest to Staszek’s versifying, which appeared to pour out of him, fully formed, with little pause and no need for revision.

When the sculptor was finally satisfied with his day’s work, and as the light was fading, Staszek rose and wrapped himself in a silk robe offered by his groom. He peered at the rendition of his face and upper body in clay and pronounced himself impressed at the work.

The ringing of a bell brought a servant with a tray of drinks, and Freddie was easily prevailed upon to stay on at the house into the evening, though Herr Goethe chose to leave after a single glass of wine, promising to return tomorrow with a draft of Staszek’s poem, which he desperately wanted to see finished.

The duke disappeared saying he needed to get properly dressed. He left his groom behind. Freddie took the opportunity and asked the lad his name and how long he had been in the duke’s service.

‘It’s Orestes Ortolan, sir. His serene highness took me into his household when I was fourteen. We met on the Altstadt when he was on his wanderings through the city. I think you know what I mean.’

‘I think I do. So you know of Staszek’s strange abilities and connections?’

‘Yes sir. Like you, I’ve been to Faërie.’

‘Good heavens! I never knew he could travel there.’

‘He cannot, sir. It was Karl Wollherz who took us. I think Master Wollherz and you are acquainted.’

Freddie pondered the youth, who was clearly one of those whom Jonas Niemand said had the mark of greatness. Orestes’s appearance in Staszek’s service made a lot more sense now. He took a plunge. ‘And you and the prince are lovers, I think.’

The reply was calm and confident, without a blush. ‘Yes sir, we share a bed and our lives. He calls me his husband.’

Freddie smiled at the romanticism, which was so very Staszek. It occurred to him that Orestes must have known Freddie’s own domestic arrangements to be quite so confident in speaking of his sexual life.

Staszek reappeared in more appropriate dress. He sized up the two. ‘So you know each other better now? Good. Orry, you sit on the sofa, and I’ll sit on your lap. Freddie won’t mind. Now then. I have a lot of things to tell you. By the way, I think I’ll call today’s epic “The Anti-Pygmalion”. What do you think? Pretentious?’


In the September of 1787 Orestes became aware that Staszek’s plan was hurtling toward its startling and worrying conclusion. On his birthday Duke Willem Stanislas had formally taken leave of his grandmother’s court and took up residence with his own household in the Casimirhof. Orestes was appointed his confidential valet and domestic chamberlain, and given a room adjoining his master’s state bedchamber. He was also given a patent of nobility and since he now had the rank of Freiherr, Orestes put off livery and was fitted out with his own wardrobe. He had to believe Staszek’s assurances he looked very elegant.

The trigger for the great and solemn events to come was the delivery of the ducal tomb from Bologna. ‘I wish you could see it, Orry. Signor Acquisti has done a marvellous job. It’s me to the life, and he’s arranged the drapes only just enough to avoid indecency. You can actually see the top of my pubes. Daring.’

Orestes smiled and let his fingers do his seeing for him, caressing and fondling the curves of the Carrera marble. He dwelt on his lover’s carved face and gasped. ‘It’s inspired!’ he declared. ‘It’s really you to the life.’

‘Good. So now we move on. There’s going to be a swift decline in my health and I foresee I’ll be pronounced dead within a week. Get the palace people to store this tomb effigy at the University. We’re going to have guests from the World Beyond coming soon.’

Bulletins were issued, and a gaunt and ailing duke supported by pillows gave a last audience to his ministers from his sickbed. The doctors were summoned and made by Staszek to see him as he wanted to be seen. He frustrated any attempts to medicate him. The Princess Osra Madeleine was sent for, but only when there was no chance she could make it in time to the deathchamber from Medeln Abbey. ‘It’s going to be traumatic enough for the poor woman, and I feel bad about this part of the plan. Also there’s also the chance she may spot the deceit, which can’t be allowed.

Orestes and a young chaplain kept the night watches, while Staszek tossed feebly and moaned from time to time in his bed. Then, early in the morning as the sun rose on the feast of St Michael and All Angels, a Saturday, he was found by his waking servants to be dead, cold and stark in his bed.

The pomp of death began. The corpse was examined and death was certified by the doctors, who were disappointed of their intention to open the body. Staszek had left instructions that there was to be no embalming and the interment was to take place within two days of his death in the tomb which was already prepared in the University chapel. Princess Osra, looking her age, arrived in time for the final ceremonies with her nephews, King Ferdinand and Prince Henry. The council of state met and proclaimed the accession of Ferdinand Elphberg of Ruritania to the duchy of Glottenburg, and so far as anyone took any consolation from the tragedy, it was that the Rothenian lands were after three centuries, once more united.


Staszek decided not to leave the city after his supposed death. He took one last look at the substitute body, lying in his bed, which he had created with the help of the Dead. Their magic had perfected the impression of a once living body. It was uncanny, and of all the events of the next month, it was the experience that most disturbed him. No living human gets to see their lifeless corpse, marked by a disease they had not suffered.

The boy sighed, turned to embrace Orestes, who would manage the discovery of the corpse, and pledged to reunite with him as soon as the funeral was done. For this was just the first act of his plan.

Staszek, though he knew he shouldn’t, walked the streets of his city and observed the funeral and the popular reaction to his death. He wrapped himself in a black mourning cloak with a broad-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes. The lack of enthusiasm for the Elphberg succession to his throne was not unexpected. But the presence of Princess Osra at least moderated any protests, while the king’s appointment of his brother as Regent-Duke of Glottenburg was a good move. Prince Henry was respected in the duchy for his championing of Rothenian culture and for his work in the foundation of the University.

The ex-duke took great care not to be observed during this time of mourning. He knew that populations could believe all sorts of irrational things when suddenly deprived of a popular ruler, not least that the deceased was still alive somewhere. He did not want to feed that beast. So for the most part he lived in a comfortable and secluded villa on the margins of the city he had bought in the name of Orestes Ortolan a year before, where Orestes himself joined him a week after Staszek’s supposed death. Staszek had in the meanwhile no servants and had overestimated his domestic competence. He was close to starvation before his lover turned up to save him from a genuine death. Then for a few weeks they were allowed the bliss of a true domestic life as lovers and partners. But that would soon end, for the second part of his plan would soon unfold.

The moment came close to dawn on a chilly day at the end of October. A party of indistinct figures approached the house through a morning mist across the dewy lawn. They became more defined as they reached the front door. At their head was Karl Wollherz, who had been delegated by the Dead to manage Staszek’s transition. Orestes and Staszek greeted them without clothes, as they would probably never need them again if the plan worked. The silent Dead and the two lovers awaited one last arrival, and Staszek had no difficulty in detecting his appearance, which had the quality of a spiritual bomb going off to his supernatural senses. He turned to find the small shape of Jonas Niemand on the drawing room carpet. The elf grinned and launched himself not at Staszek but at the phantom of Karl Wollherz, which he found solid enough. The pair hugged long and hard, the elf chatting ten to the dozen to his old and dear friend, very like the ten-year-old whose shape he took. The elf eventually turned and winked at Staszek. ‘Ready?’ he said.